Thursday, in A Brief History of My Experience Building A Minimal Wardrobe: Part 1, I shared my early experiences with minimalism, owning possessions, losing everything I owned, and in general, my relationship with stuff. For the first 24 or so years of my life, I was mostly in an accumulation-phase. Today, I’m sharing a little bit (a lot. way too much, probably) about my experience trying to reach my goal of having a curated less, particularly in regards to having a minimal wardrobe. Please enjoy this timeline of my relevant experiences from the past four-ish years.
2012 – Our Year with Too Much Space
- As newlyweds (or, one-yearly-weds), Andrew and I moved from our first cramped apartment into a too-large rental home. Living in that house was a mistake in many ways, but I had been lured by the promise of storage, a second bedroom, and a yard. When we signed the lease on the house, we imagined ourselves hosting my big family for holidays, welcoming a line of far-flung friends as overnight guests, and spending all of our free time gardening and dining al-fresco in our fenced-in backyard. None of those things happened in the year we lived there. Well, ok, we ate outside once. What’s worse, we did that thing that happens when you have more space than you need: we filled the emptiness with stuff. What’s worse worse was that our rent was far too high for our income. We didn’t travel much that year, and when we did, it was on the CHEAP. It was a blessing in disguise when our landlord decided to sell the house as soon as our one-year lease ended.
2013 – Tiny Apartments, Uniforms, and Mathilde
- We moved from the too-big rental house into the tiniest-but-still-nice apartment we could find. I’ve never sold as much on craig’s list as I did making that move. Many of our possessions had been props in our wedding, so letting go was hard, but it felt cleansing, too. This was really the first time that I had accumulated enough on my own that I needed to purge. The first two years of our marriage, we’d spent more time trying to collect all the things you “need” as a married couple. It felt strange to suddenly be getting rid of things. But we’d selected this tiny apartment strategically to force ourselves to pare down and save money.
- Shortly after getting settled into the apartment, I listened to episode 50 of the Design Sponge podcast, After the Jump. It was the only episode of that show that I ever listened to, but pieces of it really stuck with me. The show covered the idea of building “good basics” into your life and developing a uniform. To break down each of these concepts, “good basics” refers to figuring out what your go-to items are and investing in the best versions of those items. You wear white t-shirts on the reg? Why not buy a well made tee made of only natural materials that fits perfectly? Uniforms typically refer to determining your standard, no-fail combination of clothing, but in this podcast, they expanded the meaning to other tried-and-true daily combinations, like a breakfast routine. Many well-known designers and innovators have developed uniforms to help stave off decision fatigue. Think Steve Jobs in his turtleneck and jeans, or Vera Wang in simple, all-black outfits. In fact, a lot of famous creatives and designers wear simple uniforms.
- In September 2013, we took trip to Toronto for our two-year anniversary. We stayed in the apartment of an artist and Parisian-transplant named Mathilde. She was spending the weekend in New York, and we were spending the weekend admiring her chic, minimal apartment in a non-touristy part of Toronto. She didn’t have much in that tiny space filled with character, but the things she did have made a lasting impression on me. Dried lavender hung in bunches on door frames. Carefully collected books and sparse knickknacks graced the few pieces of furniture. I spent over a year looking to replicate the hand towel hanging in her tight washroom. (Spoiler: I found it). Basically, I took more photos of her apartment than is probably socially acceptable, and I have been obsessed with that space ever since. Her home was filled only with things she loved. And nothing more. (Side note, because her life could not sound more like she’s the heroin in an indie-novel, she was also a barista in the most perfect coffee shop just across the street – The Common. It was the best coffee I’ve had since my days studying abroad in Europe, and these perfect, made-in-house shortbread biscuits. Can I do an entire post where I share photos of this coffee shop and Mathilde’s apartment? No? That’s creepy? Yeah, ok. Sharing a couple of photos anyways.)
2014 – The Big Move
- In spring/summer of 2014, we made some pretty big decisions about where Andrew would go to grad school. After having lived in Nashville for 4+ years, we made the decision to move across the country to Denton, TX. We had moved frequently, but we’d never made a long distance move. In our previous situations, we’d been able to move slowly. We’d load up our vehicles bit by bit and make multiple trips. This would be the first time we had ever rented a moving truck. Our inexperience lead us to book the SMALLEST moving truck available. FYI for other newbies, “one room” size doesn’t refer to one-bedroom apartment. It literally means “you can maybe fit the contents of one room in in this truck.” Fortunately, we had already planned to take the opportunity of the move to upgrade our sofa and buy a new one once we arrived. But once we started to pack the truck, it became apparent that we would also be upgrading our mattress and our bedframe and many other small home items after moving in. There were complications to this – read sleeping on an air mattress for way too long, and substituting an old wooden army cot as a sofa for a while – but I was actually pretty excited to make purposeful decisions.
- Again, we selected the smallest apartment we could find in Denton that met my lengthy-list of must-haves. I was all in for getting rid of as much as I could stomach before the move, and was eager to live with less in the new location.
- With a long journey ahead of us, we made the decision to sell both of our cars, upgrade to a newer model, AND become a one-vehicle family. At that point, we’d already strategically selected an apartment within easy walking/biking distance of Andrew’s school, and if necessary, reasonable biking distance of my work, so out of the desire to challenge ourselves + budget constraints, we downsized to one car. We didn’t make the wisest decision as to the model, unfortunately. We were under a time-constraint, and we’ve had many issues. But now we’re taking our time and doing our research, and we’ll upgrade again in the future. Taking the time to make purposeful decisions is a key part of my minimalism. I’ve learned the hard way.
2014 Continued – End of Year Inspirations
- After a few months of getting settled in to our new place, we took a trip back to Nashville and to visit our families over the Christmas/New Year’s holidays. While in Nashville, we spent time with Jill and her husband, John. Jill and I have, for a long time, shared an overlapping aesthetic and an interest in simplifying our lives. I told her about how much I had gotten rid of in the move, and she mentioned the concept of capsule wardrobes. If you’ve somehow escaped hearing about the capsule wardrobe phenomenon, in brief, it’s a practice where you intentionally pare down your closet to contain ONLY the items that fit properly, are in good shape, meet the needs of your lifestyle, and that you love. Many people set a specific number of pieces, and some people rotate seasonally, while others have a year-round capsule with few interchangeable pieces. There are many approaches and lots of great existing resources, but the great part is that you can adapt it to work for your life. When Jill started describing capsules to me, it clicked. Somehow, my desire to simplify had not yet reached my closet, but after that discussion, I was on fire. Over the holiday, I read Caroline Rector’s Unfancy blog from first post to last. Jill and I messaged each other back and forth with the pins and blogs and resources we had found. I made a plan to purge my own closet as soon as I returned home.
- During this same holiday roadtrip, Andrew and I started listening to Steve Jobs’ biography. I spent a lot of time feeling like Steve and I had been kindred spirits, which felt a little strange. He would obsess over the smallest details, and his approach was intuitive. He wasn’t a perfect human by any stretch, but he was hella-inspiring. A few key takeaway that resonated with me are as follows:
- Limiting the number of things you focus your time on allows you to refine and perfect and become an expert at those things.
- Simplify and streamline. And then simplify and streamline again.
- There is value in a curated experience.
- Own fewer things, but the things you own should be meaningful, timeless, and beautiful.
- Develop a uniform. Remember the black designer turtleneck and jeans? Have a signature look. Rounded squares. Japanese aesthetic. Simple. Clean. White.
I found him a thoroughly inspiring creature, and if you’re interested in a well-curated, minimalist lifestyle, I recommend giving this lengthy book a read or a listen.
Winter Wardrobe – My First Capsule
- In late January 2015, I made my first capsule. I was late to the game (according to the timetable suggested by Unfancy) and my capsule was never fully complete. But I was eager to start moving forward with this concept, so I gave it a trial run. I purged my closet heavily. This part was awesome. My closet had been so cluttered with pieces that no longer fit or were no longer my style. I’d held on to these pieces out of guilt or laziness, and giving myself permission to let go felt good. After culling through my closet, I made a list of a few things to add. I didn’t have a large budget for new items, but I was in need a few pieces, especially for work. I took the approach of buying everything in one trip from the same location. I spent about $200 at Old Navy buying a few key pieces that I could mix and match. The advantage to this approach was that I could try every single new piece on with every other new piece, and I ended up creating a mini-capsule within my capsule, which was pretty cool. The disadvantage to this was that I had made purchases without as much forethought as I believe is necessary. I noticed gaps in my wardrobe pretty quickly and made notes for my next round. One major disadvantage was that I was buying to fill a quota, and the pieces that I bought weren’t super high-quality. So, instead of creating a base of good basics, I’d spent my budget on a higher number of pieces that were mostly pilled, stretched, and had holes in the seams after a few weeks of wear.
Spring Wardrobe – My Second Capsule
- My second capsule wardrobe was more purposeful. I had taken more time to plan and write lists and create mood boards. I supplemented the Old Navy pieces I had purchased for my winter capsule with a few, higher quality pieces. I made my first purchases from Everlane, a company that I had been admiring from afar for a couple of years for their unique and ethically-minded business model. In an attempt to garner community, motivate myself, and document my wardrobe, I created a hashtag to share my capsule on Instagram – #BaileysWardobe.
Summer Wardrobe – The Capsule That Wasn’t
- In April, as I was scheming for my summer capsule, John Oliver aired an episode exposing the dirty realities of fast-fashion. He broke down what those cheap, basically-disposable pieces of clothing are REALLY costing the environment and the people who make them. On a deep level, I already knew most of this. I had been uncomfortable shopping at Forever 21 and ilk for a while, but not bad enough to break my addictive habit. But Oliver’s report pushed me over the edge. I put my capsule plans on hold, and decided not to buy any new pieces until I could do some research. And so, I RESEARCHED. I did a lot of reading and searching and digging around. I also watched The True Cost documentary on Netflix, and it’s absolutely worth your time. Until fairly recently, if you wanted to buy ethically made pieces, you had to search out fair trade companies. I love the concept behind fair trade, but I didn’t always love the style. My personal style is a little bit more edgy and minimal than the often boho-tribal styles typically found. After searching out “ethically-made” and “fair trade” brands and coming up with results that wouldn’t work for my life, I decided to take the opposite approach. I decided that I first needed a list of items that I wanted to add to my wardrobe – classic pieces that have been around for a long time, and that I would still love next year, and the year after, and the year after that. Then, I would search out companies that sold those pieces and research each company individually. If that sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it was. I’m feeling a shift in the zeitgeist, but for far too long, trying to find ethically-made, fashionable clothing has been unreasonably difficult. Fortunately, there now exist a few really good lists of brands to start with, but for a while, it was really slow going. I’ll talk more about searching out ethically made brands, what that actually means to me, and a list of my go-to brands in a future post.
Fall Wardrobe – Master List, Master List, Master List
- In late summer 2015, I drafted my first Wardrobe Master List. “Master List” refers to a undertaking (mentioned above) where I compiled a list of classic, wardrobe staples to pursue. I’m cooking up a whole post dedicated to my Master List, so I’ll just give you the gist here. I devised an entire process to put together my Wardrobe Master List that – don’t worry – I will share in loving detail, but essentially the aim was to figure out what my “better basics” would ideally be, and write down every single piece of clothing I needed in my closet. I decided that instead of putting myself on a time limit and having a quota to fill, building a wardrobe, for me, would be a long-game. I was thankful that I had already drastically edited my wardrobe. It’s way easier to take your time and carefully consider new pieces if you’ve already gotten used to owning less. So even though I essentially abandoned the “capsule” principle, I don’t view it as wasted time. Each step has taken me further. Each process has made an impact. Each purge has helped to free me from the stuff that once held me captive.
- Since creating my Wardrobe Master List, I have been hunting down each piece – like a detective searching for clues – as soon I can identify and afford it. Each item is an investment, both because it’s a quality piece that will last for years to come, and because the hands that make each shoe or shirt or pair of jeans are the hands that are being fairly compensated. So essentially, I’m investing in the future of the craftsman who skillfully designs and assembles each item in my wardrobe. I’m excited to wear the Master List items I own, even months later. I’m excited to share the brands I trust with people who are similarly minded. I think it’s important, at this point, to share that I have not been without misstep. I’ve made purchases that I regretted or that weren’t, as it turned out, as ethically made as I believed – or wanted to believe. But I’m trying to give myself some room for error. I am a perfectionist AND an INFJ, so that’s hard for me. I’ve cried to my husband over my disappointment in myself. I am pretty ridiculous. Don’t be me. Maybe learn from me. But don’t be me. I am not perfect. I am not perfect. I am not perfect. A hundred times on the blackboard. But I’m trying to do better. I am learning all the time, and this process excites me! I hope it excites you too. And I hope that no one ever feels like I am casting judgment on those who don’t choose the same path as me. We all have to do what works for our lifestyle and particular circumstances. But for me, with my current income, situation, and values, this is where I’m at. I’m slowly building a classic, minimal, ethically made wardrobe. Piece by piece.
Stay tuned for a post about my Wardrobe Master List in the not-too-distant future. It might be slightly less ramble-y than this post, but no promises.